” The Jets make the Knicks look like the Roman Empire.” – Jets fan who thinks the team is worse than the lousy Knicks
” The ” Juice”, O.J. Simpson is about to be a free man but I am still serving a life sentence as a Bills fan.” – Buffalo native who contemplates the injustices of life
Imagine you were creating the worst possible scenario for a sports fan, it may look something like this: A Jets fan from September until December; a Knicks fan from January through March; and a Mets fan from April through August. No amount of counseling or medication could ease the trauma. The Jets of course, compete … no, change that – they participate in the AFC East. It is pretty well accepted that a last place finish is inevitable, the only other issue is whether they will ring up 0-16 as an added frosting of humiliation.
Following last year’s 5-11 slumber, the team was eviscerated, just about anyone who remotely approached competence was axed. In all the flurry, Josh McCown limped into the headquarters, cane in hand and declared: ” I want to be your quarterback!” Short of other realistic options, the Jets said, ” Good deal.” McCown lacks functioning arms or legs and he can’t dance though he was born back in the Disco days of the 1970s; on the 4th of July no less. Don’t expect him to lead the Jets to independence, it will probably look more like George Washington’s hasty retreat from New York. An abysmal season beckons. McCown’s career record as a starter is 18-42. That’s right, he loses over two for every one he wins. Last year, he played for Cleveland and got abused and dunked in Lake Erie; it’s what Browns quarterbacks do. Anyway, if … rather when McCown gets mutilated and through groggy eyes sees the glistening blade of a surgeon, the choices become rather bleak. You have either Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty. Neither are remotely prepared for the rigorous demands of the position so the Jets must choose wisely.
All eyes except McGown’s are on faint-hearted Hackenberg. He was bagged by NY in the second round last year then the coaches wouldn’t let him anywhere near the field. They didn’t even trust him to hold a clipboard. For good reason, he has no business being in the NFL, he was awful in college. No one knows what the Jets saw in him, he wasn’t even on any other team’s board. But when you have a total horse’s ass like Woody Johnson owning a team, these kind of hiccups happen. The Jets relented this year and allowed Hack onto the practice field and he has been a mishap merchant in pre-season. Hackenberg has trouble organizing a huddle (truth) and misses badly with his passes and has not once but twice — struck sideline reporters with errant throws. If the media intends to cover this team, it might behoove them to wear protection, Hack has an uncanny knack of drilling them right in the testicles.
Not that it really matters. The NY media is annoying anyway and the quarterbacks really don’t have anyone of note on the receiving end. Their best option, Enunwa, just became lame and is out for the season. That leaves them with Robby Anderson, who was undrafted last year and would not make any other team but is now the Jets primary receiver. A less than dazzling running game is the only hope for the offense. Matt Forte came over from the Bears a year ago and fell well shy of projected output. He will share masochist duties with Bilal Powell, who will bash away to little or no effect.
After the offense, it goes downhill. The defense is a collection of retreads, rookies and malcontents; and staying true to form, the inconsistent special teams was downgraded to save money. If there is any saving grace, owner Woody Johnson will be out of the way because he was appointed by Trump to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. If you see that the U.S. blunders into a war with Britain, there’s some history there, as the saying goes. Once upon a time the fertile Joe Kennedy, bootlegger extraordinaire was the ambassador. He was Irish, pro-Nazi and anti-English; the latter is synonymous with being Irish. He was called home to groom a son to be president and help fix elections. Then the insults were compounded because lately in the annual NFL games in England, we keep tormenting our ally by sending the Jaguars over there. And of course one year the Bills went with Rex Ryan acting like William the Conqueror. There was a suspicious food shortage while he was there and no conquest by the Bills either. The folks on that side of the pond are getting itchy to see what real American football looks like. Now with Woody on duty, it might be the tipping point. His mission will be to convince the Brits to close all their pubs, quit playing rugby, make friends with the Irish, abolish their national health care insurance and eliminate the budget for the Queen and Buckingham Palace. But Woody or no Woody, the Jets have been emasculated and will be a soft touch on the schedule.
Jay Cutler’s in town! That’s the big news in Miami. The tabloids won’t need to dig into the reserve pile for ” Buxom Blonde Abducted Near Marine Rescue Aquarium” or “Killer Shark Swallows Naked Mayor and Mistress Whole” sensationalism. The former Bears quarterback flop and almost broadcaster has been pressed into duty following the likely extinction of Ryan Tannehill. Cutler the drama queen will keep the press buzzing with his variety of innovative turnovers and tantrums. One fan was far from elated: ” We’ve gone from Tannehill to Cutler. Jesus Christ, what did Miami do to deserve this? Next thing you know the city will be overrun by foreigners and drug addicts.”
Cutler, you might say, comes with baggage. Here are some observations from his time in Chicago: ” Gutless Cutler, poor excuse for an NFL quarterback, arrogant prick!!!”
” Cutler really is the dark lord. The evil one. Voldemont … the red eye of the Lord of the Rings. I mean can someone get a stake and drive it through his heart? Please help ….”
You get the hint, Cutler was detested in Chicago, but Florida is the state of second chances. Just ask actor David Caruso. After his stint as a detective on NYPD expired, he saved his career on Miami CSI. And now Caruso can watch Cutler get 10 million dollars for a second chance to overthrow or underthrow talented receivers like Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, that’s of course when he isn’t fumbling, or pouting on the sideline while he massages his perpetually aching groin. Assuming Cutler isn’t the Second Coming of Dan Marino, swooping in to save the Dolphins, Miami does have a respectable line that run-blocks efficiently. Jay Ajayi made a leap into the bellcow role notching almost 1300 yards. That made fantasy owners salivate and now they will draft him prematurely this year.
They should be more cautious about snatching up the Miami defense. A fortune was wasted trying to mold it into a top flight unit and it still finished 29th in yards allowed. Teams ran at will, averaging over 140 yards a game. The front office did succeed in jettisoning some dead weight like Mario Williams, who reportedly is still trying to get his $ 685,000 engagement ring back from his former fiance’. Ndamukong Suh finally started paying some dividends on his huge contract by ranking third in tackles for a defensive lineman. Then again, when the opponent is running against you constantly, it is easier to pad the tackling stats. They will no doubt get plenty of opportunities again if Cutler stays true to course as a turnover vendor.
But at least you can stay warm while watching Miami lose, it could be worse, you could be in Buffalo and freeze your ass off as you witness your team implode. You all know the narrative: the Bills haven’t been in the playoffs since Christ wore roller skates, and every year is a rebuilding year. The new brain trust put a different spin on things this year, it’s not just rebuilding – it’s a fire sale ! After New England staged a raid during free agency (again) and scooped up the creme of the roster, the Bills went all out on the trading front. They were clever this time though. They waited until fans bought all the Sammy Watkins merchandise with the Bills logo on it, then traded Watkins (keeping one of his damaged feet as a souvenir). Ah yes, in Buffalo you can have your profit and pathos too. And they weren’t done. With their best cornerback pirated by the Pats, the Bills made sure the cupboard was bare by sending their next best pass defender to Philadelphia.
It’s probably unfair to new coach Sean McDermott that the shadow of Rex ” the Franchise Wrecker” Ryan lingers. (Same thing happened with Rex and Jets above.) McDermott is an Irishman like Joe Kennedy (either the Sean or the McDermott is a clue) who pulls no punches and Ryan’s country club atmosphere is being dismantled. For now, the intrepid Tyrod Taylor will be running the offense, but consider it an audition. The Bills are stockpiling early round draft choices and if Taylor doesn’t meet the standard or gets injured, expect to see him in Cleveland next.
Not all is gloomy in Buffalo. They still have one of the best running backs in the NFL in LeSean McCoy who is a dual threat with his shifty running style and ability to catch the ball (50 receptions). The offensive line is experienced and intact for a change. Tight end Charles Clay caught over 50 passes, an astonishing total by Buffalo standards, and there is hope that Jordan Matthews who was acquired in the trade with the Eagles can fill Watkins’ shoe (although he was hurt during his first hour as a Bill and his status is indefinite for the next three months or so), and free agent Anquan Boldin will add depth to the receiver ranks. The pieces are in place for a decent to even quality offense with much depending on the development of Taylor.
Now that the Ryans and their system are out the door, McDermott is introducing a daring new plan for the defense: tackle ball carriers and rush the passer. The front four led by Jerry Hughes is robust and capable of meeting those objectives. After that, the linebackers and the secondary are full of question marks. Free agents like Micah Hyde (from Green Bay) and rookies will have to fill the holes left by the massive departures. The schedule has a little bit of the “ouch” factor to it. They get to beat up on the Jets in the opener but after that it is rough sailing for a stretch: at Carolina, Denver home, then at Atlanta and Cincinnati, and back home against Tampa and Oakland. If they can sneak in a win or two against any of those six potential playoff teams, the second half is less lumpy other than the two games with New England. Don’t be surprised if the Bills mount a late season surge and level out at 8-8; but then again, that rebuilding project may not come to fruition until they get fortified with next year’s rich draft bounty.
The Patriots are expected to finish better than 8-8, and when it comes to a fan base, their spectators are clearly several cuts above the coarse rabble in Buffalo. Last year one of the drunken Buffalo riffraff threw a dildo on the field during the Patriots-Bills game. The upper crust of NFL fans who attend games in Foxboro conduct themselves according to the same high standards expected of the team. They are polite, intelligent and sophisticated and are rewarded for their efforts with an equally top shelf football team. It should be no different this year as Brady is showing no signs of slowing down at age 40 . If anything, it appears the defending Super Bowl champs are stronger than last year. Acquiring Brandin Cooks from the Saints brings a vertical threat to the passing game that was sorely lacking. Add him to Gronk, Edelman, and a backfield with multiple interchangeable parts and the offense shouldn’t miss a beat.
Because of the schedule rotation, New England will be facing a pack of premier quarterbacks. Carr, Ryan, and Brees are all on the schedule so returning to the AFC Championship is rife with pitfalls. One suspects that’s why they signed Gilmore from Buffalo to give a boost to an already experienced and talented secondary. Pressure on quarterbacks shouldn’t be a problem either as the defensive front is equipped to muster a pass rush and stop the run. Just in case, Belichick again seemed to be planning ahead and Kony Ealy was brought over in a trade from Carolina and out of the meager four choices permitted in the draft, two were defensive linemen.
If there are any weak links, it is the linebackers. Now this will surprise you, but when the Jets released veteran David Harris, the Pats were right on it and he didn’t even get to finish a bowel movement before he was inked to a contract. He should be a good addition as a role player. An opportunity presented itself – Belichick seized it.
Whether New England can weather the storm of a more demanding schedule and secure the valuable home field advantage spot in the playoffs is uncertain; however you can be certain they will win the AFC East, with Buffalo a distant second, followed by Miami, and the abominable Jets.
The Carolina Panthers of the NFC South play in Charlotte, N.C. which sportswriter Drew Magary described as ” a bank branch that someone made into a whole city.” The Panthers experienced one of the most stunning falls in football since the Giants went from the championship game in ’63 to last place the next year and Y.A. Tittle got his head cracked open. After going 15-1 and making a gallant Super Bowl effort, Carolina dropped to 6-10 last year. Their quarterback Cam Newton incurred a serious injury too, although it was a torn rotator cuff and not the ghastly iconic image of Tittle’s brains spilling onto the field. Y.A. certainly deserved better, he didn’t do dumb Subway commercials like Cam. Worse for Newton, he not only did the ads, he was actually foolish enough to try and stomach the food.
There is a lot of patter in pundit circles suggesting the Panthers can’t be that bad again. It’s enough to give you indigestion because they can and probably will. Relying on Newton is a fool’s errand, shoulder injuries are tricky and he is intent on making mad dashes to self-destruction. Jerry Richardson also showed he was worthy of the dumb owners’ club when he waited until July to fire general manager Dave Gettleman – after Gettleman did all the damage he could do. That included signing free agent tackle Matt Kalil to a monstrous five year deal despite Kalil suffering a major hip injury in 2016. Matt won’t exactly be joined at the hip to his sibling but close enough, older brother Ryan plays center on one of the worst lines in the NFL. They will be expected to try and protect Newton, a dubious cause indeed, and also open holes for Jonathan Stewart who was never speedy and now at 30 and well-pummeled, has lost a dozen steps or so.
They do have a gem in tight end Greg Olsen but the rest of the receivers are a junkyard of spare parts, although it is expected rookie Curtis Samuel will be an upgrade. The biggest hopes rest on Christian McCaffrey, a hybrid back/receiver from Stanford. Carolina is banking on McCaffrey to provide enough excitement at games to cause spectators to interrupt their NASCAR viewing on i-pads. Yes, the fans pay big money to come to football games so they can follow NASCAR.
Assuming linebacker Luke Kuechly can stay healthy for a whole campaign and assuming the 80 million spent on Kawann Short to stabilize the line pays off, that group might be respectable while riding the coattails of such high impact players. Elsewhere on that line, you may need a portable oxygen tent on the field for old demolition artist Julius Peppers and the rapidly aging Charles Johnson. The secondary is sub-standard so don’t hold your breath expecting many heroics from that quarter. This is a defense that may be a work in progress so the fans down in the Tarheel State best stick to NASCAR and wait for the college basketball season to start.
The libertine folks in Florida aren’t the patient types. A state long known for Spring Break, revelry, and unsavory sexual commerce featuring all sorts of indelicate variety, Florida is the very American image of instant gratification. They expect results immediately and that applies to football too. Tampa kicker Ben Aguayo just found that out the hard way. After a miserable 2016, then compounding his sins by missing a field goal and extra point in the first pre-season game, he was booted from the team. To ease his suffering he was promptly signed by the Bears where there will be no stress because they rarely get into scoring range anyway.
The Bucs don’t have a problem getting into the Red Zone, they have an offense that has some pop. Led by Jameis Winston who is coming into his own as a team leader, this is a powerhouse in the making. Mike Evans is one of the best receivers in the game and fleet but neurotic DeSean Jackson was snagged from the free agent pile. Brate and Howard are potent tight end threats and the only real question mark is the backfield where someone will have to fill Doug Martin’s shoes while he serves his PED enforced suspension.
So yes they can score but the flip side is stopping the opponents. No small stakes in a division where they face Ryan, Brees, and Newton each twice a year. Most of the resources were devoted to the offense leaving a lackluster defense without any backup parts. The secondary is threadbare, and the brightest spot anywhere on that side of scrimmage is new addition Chris Baker, a free agent from Washington who should provide some heft to a shaky line. By his own admission he enjoys dancing more than football. He and the rest of the outfit will have to step it up if the Bucs intend to improve on last year’s 9-7 mark and remain a viable Wild Card contender.
The Saints would love to see 9-7, they have been the inverse at 7-9 for three straight years and four of the last five. It seems almost like some kind of voodoo curse, they are doomed to be a 7-9 team. Maybe it’s not a curse after all, just a lousy defense. It was 27th ranked in 2016, that’s an improvement over when Rob Ryan was mismanaging it. Despite that less than impressive status, they were surprisingly gritty in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Beyond that there were too many breakdowns and not enough pressure on quarterbacks.
As for quarterbacks, New Orleans has one of the best of all time in Drew Brees. Even losing Brandin Cooks shouldn’t phase him, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead should satisfy the receiving needs. The backfield should be intriguing. Adrian Peterson is in the Big Easy and they already have Mark Ingram, and drafted Alvin Kamara from Tennessee. Exactly what in the hell all three of them are supposed to be doing while Brees bombs away is anybody’s guess? And if the defense falters, which is likely, the Saints will be often be playing from behind and even less inclined to run. It’s kind of like eating at one of those New Orleans buffets, just too many choices. Damn, the cuisine in that city is outstanding; the football team not so much. They will battle with Tampa for the second spot because the clear frontrunner is Atlanta.
Atlanta, the very peach of the South. Great football team and it is said Atlanta is so safe that you can park your car anywhere in the city, leave your keys in it all night, and it won’t be molested. No molesters in that metro marvel of merriment. When Christ returns for the Rapture, he is flying into their exciting airport to gather up the good Christians in Atlanta first before he swings over to morally unstained Texas to scoop up some more.
The Falcons were near the football equivalent of rapture when they led the Patriots 28-3 in the second half of the Super Bowl, then Brady donned his General Sherman cloak and rained fire on the feast. This led to a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But let the lamentations end, with Matt Ryan still the vital cog in the high-paced offense, the Falcons are back and fully geared for another visit to gridiron nirvana. Rarely does a quarterback have such a menu to choose from. There is Julio Jones who is in the conversation as among the best receivers in football. Anchoring the backfield is Devonta Freeman, also among the best at his trade. The tight ends are efficient and as a second receiver option, Sanu is too.
Dick Smith got fired as defensive coordinator after the Super Bowl meltdown although offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was just as much to blame. Shanahan skipped town though and heads had to roll so Dick took the dive. Usually too much is made of all this coach shuffling as it is just moving some ass from one venue to another. And for a defense like Atlanta’s, the pieces are pretty much in place other than a tweak here and there. It’s a reasonably sound group and free agent Dontari Poe is one of the few new faces. His 330 pound frame will help shoo inside runners away and Takkarist McKinley comes out of UCLA to swear during televised speeches and abet the pass rush.
Opposing coaches will be swearing as they try to find a way to contain the very powerful Falcons. They are an exceptionally strong team that has its eyes on returning to the big show to erase last year’s embarrassing second half collapse against the Pats. There is one major obstacle in their path in the NFC and that is Green Bay. Let me close by sharing the view of an even-tempered Atlanta fan about the Packers: ” Fuck the Packers, and fuck all the Packer fans too!”